Artist/Maker: Davidson, Lilian Lucy
Date Created: 1946
Medium-Tech: Oil on canvas
Dim-English: 27.5 in x 35.5 in
Object #: 2011.5
Exhibit Label: Lilian Lucy Davidson, ARHA
Gorta - 1946
Oil on canvas
Lilian Lucy Davidson earned a reputation for empathetic, naturalistic work. She was prolific and proficient across a range of media: painting, book illustration, poster design and set design for theater. And she was both a critic and writer in her own right; she wrote under the pseudonym Ulick Burke.
In Gorta, one age of anxiety meets another. There is nothing like it in Irish visual culture. Its echoes are of the European tradition—artists who engaged with the dark side of the landscape in the years leading up to and between the two world wars.
The restricted palette intensifies the emotion. Blue has a long tradition in Christian symbolic iconography and also is associated with mourning. Its dominance here heightens the sense of loss. This family has lost its child to starvation. Davidson provides a glimpse of terrifying grief. Notwithstanding the grandfather’s rosary beads, it is without religious hope or heroic overtones. These people have come from nothing; now traumatized, they look past one another into nothingness.
The bareness of the setting would suggest a cillín, where those prohibited from interment in consecrated ground by the Catholic Church were buried. Unbaptized children, stillborn children, illegitimate children, convicted murderers, the mentally disturbed, the shipwrecked, those who took their own lives, and those whose religion was unknown were buried there. And, in the 1840s, this included many victims of the Famine.